Swatch quietly gears up to make smartwatches

13 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

In smartwatch war, Swatch goes for cheap, quick and China.

The world’s largest watchmaker unveiled its riposte to Apple’s smartwatch on Thursday, announcing a plan to put cheap programmable chips in watches that will let wearers from China to Chicago make payments with a swipe of the wrist. To observers of the secretive Swiss watch industry, its quiet, seemingly passive response to Apple Inc.’s plan to attack their centuries-old business could be mistaken for submission before an overwhelming adversary. Swatch Group will start offering watches with near field communication (NFC) chips within two months, chief executive Nick Hayek said at a news conference on the company’s annual results which were released last month.

But luxury and fashion groups Richemont, LVMH, Swatch Group and Guess Inc. have been busy in the past year tinkering with smartwatches of their own, while aiming to preserve their products’ more timeless appeal. Sharon Chan, Sotheby’s Head of Watches Asia, displays a set of James Bond 40th anniversary watches as part of a 5,800 Swatch watches and related artworks collection during a preview in Hong Kong on Tuesday, March 10. The Swiss company’s strategy appears to revolve around including individual tech features in different models rather than going head to head with Apple, the world’s most valuable firm, to create all-in-one smartwatches combining many functions. “We are the world champions of integrating smart functions into a watch,” Hayek said. “We don’t want to produce a mini mobile phone on your wrist.

When Apple Watch was first announced last September, some experts dismissed such devices as appealing to a different class of customer – those who prize technology over prestige. Considered as one of the world’s largest Swatch collections in private hands ever known, owner Paul Dunkel has collected Swatch prototypes, limited and special editions between 1983 and 2007. Others can do that.” Apple’s watch will go on sale in nine countries starting in April, priced from $349 for the smaller model and $549 for the standard version, although a high-end “Edition” watch will sell for at least $10,000. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for us. The most detailed data on this problem, a July 2014 Endeavor Partners study, tells us that about a third of all smartwatch and fitness band owners abandon their wrist wearables after six months. While the Apple Watch has drawn rave reviews for many of its features, its limited battery life of no more than 18 hours before re-charging is considered a big drawback.

An iPhone tends to lose half its value within the first year after it is introduced, while Rolex’s flagship Submariner model has risen in value, analysts at Berenberg Bank noted in a recent report. Montblanc, owned by Richemont, announced in January the launch of the TimeWalker Urban Speed e-strap watch, which combines a traditional mechanical watch with an interchangeable strap containing a Bluetooth connected device. I congratulate them.” Both firms’ strategies could co-exist and succeed, Hayek said, before adding a dig at the bigger rival: “Upgrading software every year, that’s not our business.” For its near-field chips, which will cost around 2 francs ($2) per watch, Swatch has teamed up with China UnionPay, the Chinese credit card association, as well as a Swiss bank and a major credit card company. Swatch is also launching a range of sports-themed “Swatch Touch” smartwatches which will be able to “buddy up” with a smartphone via a Bluetooth connection. Trust me: I’ve been reviewing smartwatches since they became a thing, and once you run out of juice the first time, you’re already on the path to giving up.

A year ago, it said it would produce a smartwatch based on Google’s Android Wear software, and in September it said it had partnered with chipmaker Intel Corp. The threat that Apple will cannibalize existing watch demand is most acute for Swatch, analysts say, because it has the highest proportion of products selling for a few hundred dollars, instead of several thousands as high-end names do. Yet on Monday Apple confirmed that the Watch will allow voice calls from your wrist, just like Samsung’s Gear, an ambitious but seriously flawed smartwatch pioneer. Baktidy, owner of two auto body repair shops in New York and two dozen watches by luxury brands including Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Breitling and Omega.

But it’s also essentially useless, as none of these watches’ heart rate sensors can provide accurate real-time readings during the jumping and jostling of physical exercise. Now, sure, you could argue that some smartwatch features are must-haves, that a smartwatch isn’t a smartwatch unless these features are present and accounted for. I think a much stronger Apple Watch would offer simple notifications, Passbook with built-in Apple Pay, HomeKit integration, and a full suite of timekeeping and personal messaging functions. Indeed, Apple’s small, ostensibly trivial surprise-and-delight tricks (taps, sketches, stickers, and custom animated emojis) might be all the Watch requires to be a resounding success. So while you might buy the upcoming Apple Watch, you may not buy its second-gen follow-up if you feel you didn’t get your money’s worth, or some borderline features just didn’t work.

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